Black Mirror kicked off the interactive film-experience on the mainstream small screen with the stimulating Bandersnatch back in 2018, and so it’s a surprise we haven’t seen more in a similar vein until now. Step forward The Complex, a new interactive sci-fi thriller that promises multi-optional storytelling with 8 possible outcomes, with this official setup:
In the wake of a major bio-weapons attack, two scientists find themselves locked down in a laboratory racing against time to stem the outbreak of a pandemic. A leader in the advancement of Nanocell technology, Dr Amy Tennant (Michelle Mylett) must contain the threat, but with a series of life or death decisions to be made, the fate of the nation will ultimately rest in your hands alone…
The opening sequence introduces us to Amy (Mylett) and her colleague Rees Wakefield (Al Weaver), they’re fighting some unknown disease in two patients, somewhere in a fictional Asian country. With the interactive part in action, the first choice you get to make is whether to save a pregnant woman or a young man, both for different reasons, but you get a millisecond to decide. While I supposed this could be like real-life, you don’t really know anything about anyone, so it’s already a human reaction, rather than a genuine dilemma.
In these early days, the only moment of angst we do see, is when infected individual Clare (Kim Adis) is on the London tube, sweating and obviously suffering. While fellow passengers are concerned, and the current real-world lingers in the mind, she carries on and eventually gets picked up and taken into quarantine and down into the lab, where (more or less) the entire narrative takes place.
So, after the initial setup of intrigue from Director Paul Rashid, the issue with something high concept is keeping the energy going, even when you have to make decisions for the characters and this doesn’t always hold steady. There’s a few reasons why but even during the early stages, side characters and extras aren’t always convincing which easily distracts from the story due to some pretty wooden acting. The drama that’s built is quickly dispersed with a flat delivery and we haven’t moved anywhere.
The other problem with The Complex is the lack of chemistry for the characters and an unfortunately bland script from Lynn Renee Maxcy, which doesn’t help mould our cast together. You might have the likes of Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones, The Witch) on board but with dialogue so clunky and bleeding in cliche, there’s little to no pace with the progression of proceedings and, again, any decision made seems a little pointless. It’s all too slow, therefore, you don’t really care who lives or dies because there’s no tension.
My other contention with the script is its deep dive into Doctor Who fan fiction, but without any delicate touch or aliens. The lead character is Dr Amy Tennant, who’s also called Amelia at one point, and it occasionally felt like a David Tennant-era episode. There’s a character called ‘Parker Clapani’ (Okorie Chukwu), a moment called ‘The Rebel and The Doctor‘ as well as unsubtle homages to the likes of Jurassic Park and Star Wars but these things are a bolt-on, rather than anything cleverly implemented.
As this is being released on the PS4, PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, I expected more of a gaming edge but – to be brutally honest – there’s little to none. While there are the aforementioned ‘story choices’ you have to make, there’s no interaction beyond that beyond a ‘real-time’ Relationship Status and Personality Trait tracking system that evolves based on your choices. However, this integration appears to be a side-thought because it doesn’t develop past something you can literally just look at.
There’s also an annoying lack of game saving opportunities for a choice-based film, I had to restart/stop and it threw me back much further than when I’d switched off. Just for kicks, I chose different outcomes but still ended back up at a previous conclusion, thus not really changing anything. Obviously, I’d have to go through from the start to see if any more decisions had an effect but The Complex wasn’t compelling enough to want to go through it again.
Saying all this, and always wanting to find a positive, Al Weaver‘s Rees is one of the better things here, he’s naturally funny and brings an interesting character to events, considering what he’s working with. Alongside him, it’s Kim Adis‘ Clare, who spends the whole time in an enclosed box, who is one of the better players and the chemistry between her and Rees is a redeeming feature.
Oddly, I didn’t completely dislike The Complex, I just wish they’d found a sharper, closer-cut edit and focused in on a more profound, human element. This is a difficult genre to pull off, which is revealed by the lack of interactive stories out there, so it’s worth praising for its daring nature. In some ways, I liked the utterly harmless element of the entire game/film, and that’s mainly based around the craziness of reality right now. This is pure escapism with a definite lo-fi indie sci-fi vibe and for that, it deserves an aspect of commendation but, truthfully, there’s not much to remember here.